“IF I were a guy, I wouldn't be writing this because I'd be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labour of expanding our family.” So said Serena Williams earlier this week, when announcing her impending retirement from tennis.

Williams has had a glittering tennis career. Despite not (yet, at least) equalling the record set by Margaret Court for 24 singles grand slam titles, she has 23 of them, including at least three at each of the four major tournaments, and to go along with them she has another 16 doubles grand slam titles and four Olympic gold medals.

And she did it with nothing but hard work and determination. Tennis is a tough sport in which to make it; money usually helps, as does knowing the right people, and Williams had neither of those. She will never be forgotten.

Her retirement announcement, though, was teeming with a combination of bitterness and self-congratulation. She should have won 30 Grand Slams, she said, while labelling herself “extraordinary” for winning 23, and while noting, unsubtly, that Margaret Court won her titles before tennis’s "Open Era".

And her pronouncement that, were she a man, she would still be playing and winning now, was an eyebrow-raiser in more than one way. Firstly, it is a matter of some debate. Serena Williams is 40 years old. The oldest tennis player to win a grand slam was Ken Rosewell, another Australian, in the 1970s, at 37 years old. Next in line are Roger Fereder at 36, and Williams herself at 35. She has made four finals since then, and been comfortably dispatched in them all.

In sports, Father Time remains undefeated. Like Federer, Williams has not been thwarted by motherhood, but by a combination of her age and the young pretenders to her throne.

Her protestations, though, are a sign of our times. They are a mark of an era in which we are now firmly planted, and in which everyone believes they should be entitled to anything and everything that anyone else possesses.

And they are a mark of an era in which the acceleration towards what we might call sameness, is coming at the expense of individual identities and differential outcomes.

Instead of celebrating authenticity and difference, we see it as a warning sign that there are other people whose outcomes are not the same. We are becoming social engineers, and whilst this is usually with good intentions, we all know which road is paved with those.

This drive towards sameness is not the preserve only of celebrities. We see it in more and more settings in everyday life. One of the most obvious examples is in our schools, where we appear to be single-mindedly focused on assimilating outcomes. The Scottish Government policy of closing the attainment gap is simultaneously exceptionally well-meaning and deeply concerning.

It would take a cold heart and a twisted mind to want children from poorer backgrounds to be prevented from achieving what their peers from wealthier backgrounds can. However, in practice, closing the attainment gap is more easily achieved by suppressing those performing best rather than by lifting those performing worst.

That is helped, of course, when children have no stars for which to reach. Those readers with children in state school, like me, will know that we know longer know which child is "top of the class", because we now deem that openness to be damaging to those children who are not. We no longer seem concerned about those children who might find inner strength from that knowledge and prosper in an effort to be standing at the front of the class with the gold star next time.

From academia to sport, in our schools we no longer have winners and losers; we simply have achievers. We no longer level young people up; we level young people down. We no longer have difference; we have sameness.

However, whilst policy-makers and social engineers can change the rules of life, they cannot change the reality of life. People are different, and they always will be. Everyone is born into different circumstances. Some people will always be richer than others. Some people will always have better parents than others. Some people are smarter than others. Some people work harder than others. Some people get lucky, and some get unlucky.

And, back to Serena Williams, some people are female and some are male, and the people who are female are the ones who have babies. These are the rules in the game of life. They are not things a politician can change, or should want to change, because they are the key chapters in our individual stories.

They do not hold us back; they simply guide our path. I, for one, do not want my daughters to grow up believing that their sex is a permanent barrier to their achievement. It is not. Jessica Stenson certainly doesn’t think so; a mother of a two-year-old, she just struck gold in the Commonwealth Games marathon, and was joined on the podium by two other mothers. Stenson’s husband couldn’t give birth to her son, but she doesn’t seem to hold a grudge.

None of this is to say that we should simply take a "live and let live" approach to people’s life chances. We should not. We should, with conviction and determination, be ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to excel, whether that is in sport, business, academia or simply in life.

In our schools, we could start by abolishing Scotland’s catchment area system, which does more than anything else to keep poor children poor, stuck in underperforming schools with inferior outcomes, while those children with parents wealthy enough to buy a house in the best catchment areas prosper. Allowing parents to use their taxpayer-funded education at any taxpayer-funded school, and having those schools compete for pupils, would be the high tide that, at a stroke, would lift all boats.

It would not make everyone’s outcome the same. But, then, why would we want to? We were all different yesterday, we are all different today, and we will all be different tomorrow.

Our job as a society is not to foment grievance about the life we’ve been given, but to create the circumstances where we can all make the best fist of it. Serena Williams did that pretty well.

Andy Maciver is Founding Director of Message Matters and Zero Matters

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